Back To School It is now time to go back to school for young people all around the UK; and between rumours of a new lockdown and six months spent within four walls, going back to a public space and mixing with others might feel a bit odd. Six months after coronavirus brought the 21st century to a stand-still, life is going back to motion. Our notion of normality has been altered and our daily routine now includes masks, heavy hand-washing and avoiding all forms of physical contact. But how do our young people feel about being surrounded by classmates again? After months of scary news and isolation, are they comfortable with the idea of sharing a closed space with others? We held a conversation with our Headliners, and opened the dialogue on their feelings, one week on. Milo “I had my induction last Thursday” Milo told us, “It was good but felt distorted because everything that I’m being taught is completely changed. There’s no mixing of classes at all. You’re not even allowed to be in a classroom by yourself, you have to stand outside. That really doesn’t suit me because I would normally arrive early in the morning and rest at my desk until classes start. There are hand sanitising stations everywhere. I knew that things would be stricter but there are three or four stations per classroom and I just can’t get my head around that logic.” After spending four years studying media at the North-West Regional College (NWRC), Milo joined this year a performing arts course. But he said that the way the course was being taught this year because of the new regulations was a little disheartening. “Because of Covid, all our performances this year are cancelled. I joined to become a performer and I can’t perform. We’ll be talking more about the theory of running a show rather than actually running it. Brandon For Brandon who is starting his final year in St Brigid’s College, going back to school was a completely different experience: “How I feel about going back? Honestly? Relieved! Finally going back to a form of structure, a sort of routine I guess. I’m back two weeks now and it feels good, in the end I really had nothing else to do.” He added that school didn’t feel that different from before the pandemic except for new safety measures: “We have to wear masks all the time except when we’re in the classroom, there’s a one-way system, you’re not allowed to eat your lunch in the canteen and you have to clean your desk with antiseptic. Other than that, it feels pretty normal – business as usual.” “But realising you’ve forgotten something though, and having to take the one-way system all over again has to be the worst feeling in the world” he jokingly added. “I’m glad to be back” he said “but I get what people are scared of. I just comply with guidance and hopefully we’ll be alright.” Safety guidance was put in place in all schools and colleges and our young people agree that following it is a crucial step in making this return to school a success, but this doesn’t mean that it comes easily. Josh Josh is following Milo’s step and has now joined the media department in NWRC: “Because it’s my second year at the NWRC, I’m well used to the structure and organisation of the days, but to be honest it’s a bit weird being back with all those measures – wear a mask, hand sanitise, etc. On the first day, I had to fill a questionnaire to confirm I was able to return before I was allowed in. “I do understand it’s important and I do comply and follow procedures, but I do find it annoying. It’s tough to adjust, like yesterday for example I forgot to bring my mask! It was OK though because they gave me one and there are sanitising stations everywhere. “I was very nervous going back” Milo said “I still am. Sitting in a classroom now feels like a death sentence, and I mean that in the nicest possible way – I don’t want to be cruel to teachers, but I feel like a burden more than anything. They could be safe at home but instead they have to come and teach us.” Canice For Canice who finished secondary school during the lockdown and has now joined a Foundation Degree Software Development course in the NWRC, adapting to new surroundings is as much a challenge as getting his head round the fact that he is back to a classroom, after six months spent in lockdown. “I’m getting used to the place little by little. Everything will be alright. You do expect things to go sideways though, like the whole College getting infected or something. But a lot of our lessons will be on video calls and I’m in the College only three days a week so even though I’m nervous, I try not to worry too much. Class Monday to Wednesday is a nice change from secondary school by the way.” Kieran Kieran is also going back to the NWRC after seven years out. But for him, Coronavirus is the least of his concerns: “Even with the whole virus thing, part of me is still more worried about the bullying – getting targeted yet again. Because I don’t know what’s worse – coronavirus or bullying.” The last time Kieran was in the College, he eventually had to drop because the bullying he suffered badly affected his mental health. (Follow this link to read his story). After years of rebuilding his confidence, he is ready to try again and create better memories of the place. He knows that the invisible threat of sickness is there but has decided not to worry until he has good reasons to: “If a student had the virus, then I would get really concerned and probably uncomfortable, because if there’s one there might be another, unaware and asymptomatic.” “With my father working, I don’t like to take unnecessary risks” Milo added, “But I think my education is a necessary risk. I need to get out there and make a name for myself.” It’s been a full week since school resumed and though case numbers keep rising, it looks like precautionary measures are keeping most people safe. Headliners will soon be ready to open its doors again and start meeting young people face to face. But in the meantime, another problem arises for young people who meet classmates for the first time, one that is very much specific to 2020: When you meet someone for the first time now, you’ll never actually know what they look like, because all you’ve seen is them wearing a mask! This article was created from a conversation held by Headliners POCA members Kieran Townley, Milo Quigley and Brandon Harkin; and Foyle Bureau members Canice Cusack and Joshua McGeoghan on the worries of going back to school in 2020. It happened as our series #LifeInLockdown is coming to an end, and was made possible by the ongoing support of The National Lottery Community Fund.